A few years back I bought some old steel flechettes from a military surplus store because they looked cool, and I could use them in a presentation for a history class I was taking at the time (but mostly because they were cool). Recently, I got the idea to send some to the Youtube channel Taofledermaus to load and shoot out of a 12 gauge shotgun. If you haven’t seen his channel before he shoots all sorts of odd things out of a shotgun, including a lot of projectiles that are custom machined by some of his viewers. Many of them aren’t aerodynamic enough to stabilize at supersonic or near-supersonic speeds, and end up tumbling, resulting in poor accuracy and key-holing on impact. But the flechettes I have were made to be projectiles, so maybe they’d do better.
Here’s a few pictures of what they look like. There are a few different styles of tail fins, with some having flat backs, some more raindrop shaped, and some being heart shaped. All are roughly the same size, and they are all mixed together in the bag, so I’m not going to sort them all out. Yes, they are steel, as I found out with my bench grinder. And they aren’t extremely hard steel, but you can drive them into a 2×4 just like a nail, so they are hard enough. At the speeds they are going, I don’t think the targets will notice much difference.
If you aren’t familiar with them (and almost nobody is), flechettes are small arrow like darts. The name is french for “little arrows” and they look like it. The ones I have are roughly an inch long and 1/16th of an inch in diameter, with the “fins” being 3/16ths of an inch across, although some can be larger. In use as far back as World War I when they were dropped out of planes on infantry, flechettes have a long but often forgotten use in combat. The ones I have were supposedly removed from tank or artillery shells from the Vietnam time period. These types of rounds were intended to counter the human wave tactics the US faced in Vietnam, and the small steel darts have a high sectional density, so they (supposedly) tended to cut through the dense foliage better than round projectiles would. There were some experimental 40mm and 12 gauge rounds that were tested, but they never saw widespread use, and they faded into obscurity when the US pulled out of Vietnam. Flechette rounds almost saw a revival during the small arms developments and tests of the Cold War, when flechettes were tested to replace bullets in 5.56 and 7.62 NATO rounds, as well as for the CAWS shotgun program. Ultimately, nothing would come of these tests, and these rounds and surplus flechettes would be left to collectors.
So, how do the shotgun rounds actually work? I’m tasking Taofledermaus to find out. My count shows that 20-40 of these flechettes fit in a standard 12 gauge shell, weighing roughly an ounce. I packaged up a bit over six ounces of my flechettes to send off, and hopefully we can get some good high speed video of them shooting. I’ve asked Taofledermaus to shoot them at some steel targets to see how they would have done hitting armor, as well as ballistic gel to get an idea of terminal performance. I read somewhere that testing showed on impact the main “arrow shaft” tended to bend and break off from the tail fins, creating two distinct wound channels, but I’d like to see if that’s true or not. I’m also curious how the spread will be out of a standard smooth bore shotgun.
Taofledermaus, if you have the time and resources, here’s what I’d like to see:
- Shoot a steel plate (hardened or not) to see if there is any penetration or damage. I’m also curious if the steel on steel impact will cause any sparks or other interesting effects.
- Shoot ballistic gel, preferably the flatter back of one of your ballistic gummy bears, and get some good high speed of the impact. I’m interested to see how the terminal effects stand up to previous testing claims.
- Shoot something big so we can get an idea of the spread out of a smooth bore. Maybe even compare a side by side shot with a standard buckshot/birdshot shell from the same gun at the same distance.
- Be careful. I’ve stabbed myself more than a few times with these things and they hurt… Hopefully they don’t draw any blood.
Thanks, I’m very excited to see how these shoot, but I’ve never wanted to risk the barrel on my Beretta 1301 for it. Good luck, now go break stuff for science!